Olympic travelling beyond the games in Rio
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Brazil Hit the road away from the Olympic Games

Olympic travelling beyond the games in Rio

Braving the Brazilian games this August ? Then why not take in the sights outside of the sport and Rio with

At the end of the jungle trail -  a rock pool in Trindade
At the end of the jungle trail - a rock pool in Trindade

I’m sure if you’ve spent the money to see Team GB go for gold (silver and bronze) this summer you will want to see them. But flying all that way isn’t something you do every year, so why not see more than the sport. Most people fly to Sao Paulo and connect to Rio by air, but I wanted to see the real Brazil, so I got out at the first airport and hired a car for the rest of the way. And as luck would have it, between its giant cities lies an exotic realm of rainforests, colonial pueblos, a tropical island and luxury hotels.

They call it the Costa Verde (Green Coast) and the ocean views from its meandering highway are worth the trip alone. It’s the tropical terrain comprising white beaches and green mountains that connects Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.

Step 1: Itamambuca Eco Resort, Ubatuba (120 miles east from Sao Paulo)

Here be dragons! Slippery river fish, creepy crawlies and crabs that popped out of holes to scare the living daylights out of my girlfriend Juli. This is the Brazil of BBC nature shows – and is a refreshing contrast from the urban sprawls of Rio and Sao Paulo.

Located in the shadow of rainforested mountains where an Amazonesque river meets the ocean, the complex is a family haven. If your kids survive the giant moths, deafening crickets and waves of hummingbirds, they will love stand-up paddling and kayaking on the white sandy river island and the thin stretch of beach separating fresh water from its salty foe.

We felt safe and comfortable – while creepy and fascinating, the exotic creatures we encountered were wusses, scuttling back to the holes from whence they came. The closest we came to danger was in the presence of sloths and red squirrels. This is probably how the on-site producers of “I’m a Celeb” feel, watching the jungle madness from the comfort of their swish hotels.

My girlfriend and I arrived – as is our custom – tired and grouchy. So it was with acute relief that we received a chirpy greeting from receptionist Ignacio, who showed us to our room and explained the resort rules. Equipped with an expenses card, bracelet and vouchers for beach deck chairs and the like, we were ready to take on nature…in the most relaxing way imaginable.

Dinner by the pool at Itamambuca Eco Resort
Dinner by the pool at Itamambuca Eco Resort

The room lived up to our expectations and more. With its fish-shaped lampshades and marine furnishings, it pays tribute to its aquatic surroundings. Staying true to its Brazilian traditions, thonged female bottoms bedecked the curtains, frames and lamps.

Outdoors, trails carve through the forest and hotel buildings. It has two pools, a campsite and a range of restaurants. The main pool has one of those swim-up bars (is there any greater joy for a child than gulping down a fruit juice, perched on a submerged stall?) The amenities are excellent and the staff are helpful and friendly.

But what you’re really here for is the scenery – the mossy mountains, the water and the starry night sky. The river meanders sharply before reaching the ocean, meaning you have to cross it to reach the beach. I attempted to emulate Moses in parting the water (or walking straight through it with our bags) to reach golden paradise.

The white sand at the confluence of the river and the ocean in the Itamambuca Eco Resort
The white sand at the confluence of the river and the ocean in the Itamambuca Eco Resort

And I was half drowned and drawing concerned regards from onlookers, before I realised I’d unintentionally skipped a queue for the hotel’s floating device that offered a dry passage.Not sure if they’d have me back – but just don’t tell them you know me.

Casa Turquesa, Paraty (35 miles north from Itamambuca)

“What shoe size are you?” the receptionist asked before our arrival in Paraty. We responded to this curious question. So upon our arrival, the provision of stylish sandals for our stay was a nice touch, cute and practical – which we later realised is typical of the Casa Turquesa. Another illustration is the breakfast, served from 8am “until the last person wakes up”.

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Bar and room at Casa Turquesa in Paraty

“Cute and practical”, however, would be to undersell this exotic and modern sliver of luxury on Brazil’s Costa Verde. As we suckled on courtesy grapes and plums, Juli and I found ourselves hoping our trip’s finale in Rio would never arrive – which is no mean feat.  unnamed-13

“I love this stuff,” exclaimed Juli, as she rifled through the complimentary assortment of miniature treats, comprising soaps, shampoos and sewing kits. In essence, it has the amenities of a luxury brand combined with the homeliness of a cottage.

Wi-Fi is exceptional and the showers are divine. You may think me naïve for saying so – after all, one comes to expect such basic services in a £200-a-night hotel. But bear in mind the hotel stands out in this rustic fishing town as a rare beacon of modern excellence.

Having arrived via a Fast and Furious bus on a rare cloudy day, the view of the colourful boats revived our blunted minds. A brief stroll down the hotel’s rustic corridor of wood brown and turquoise fittings and the arrival at our sumptuous double room for some reason brought to mind the lavish lodgings of aristocratic Victorian travellers. Perhaps it was the exquisite white drapes of our regal canopy bed.

I should add that it is ideally located on a cobblestone street beside the donkey rides and church of the seaside promenade. Owner Tete Etrusco – who speaks every language under the sun – was an omnipresent fixture in our stay. Her tips encouraged us to take a 3-hour boat ride around the tiny islands and hidden caves and rock formations of the coast. The colonial town of Paraty itself is a romantic getaway rich with quaint cafés and churches. Stroll past the active pier and grab dinner in the main plaza amid live music and shows.

The main strip of restaurants near Paraty
The main strip of restaurants near Paraty

You know what? I’m going to say it – this was the best hotel I have ever been to. Don’t believe me? Look it up, go there, I’ll pay your refund if you don’t like it.

Recreio da Praia, Ilha Grande (50 miles north of Paraty and 90 miles south of Rio de Janeiro)

After the rainforest trails of the Itamambuca Eco Resort and the rustic colonial flair of Paraty, it seemed only fair to dedicate some of our trip to the idyllic sandy beaches of a tropical island. We took the boat from Angra dos Reis, a pretty coastal town approaching Rio.

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Lopes Mendes Beach on Ilha Grande

On arrival at Ilha Grande’s busy pier, we were greeted by a vision Caribbean-esque in vibrancy, sound and ambiance. The seaside boulevard is alive with the beat of drums and the calls of tour guides offering scuba and water sports trips. The hotel is ideally located on the main strip, just one block from the pier. It has an elegant façade with a restaurant overlooking the bay.

Behind it loom mountains of tropical woodland and the spire of a quaint church, whose clergy interact and sing with passers-by. The hotel is aimed at families and couples, with its rooms centred around a bar and a swimming pool with a waterfall.

The following day – despite the diving trip offers – we took the safe option of a boat to Lopes Mendes Beach. We’d been reliably informed it was among the marvels of the world, and its white sand that crunches like snow and pristine, warm water certainly made an impression. Not as much as the giant wave that knocked me sideways after I tried to stand strong with the local swimmers and surfers. Suitably embarrassed, I crept back to our spot in the shade and admired the postcard-pretty view.

Back in the island’s main town of Abraão in the evening, we found a fabulous crepe place on night one and a beach hut with great stroganoff on the second evening. There are plenty of options on the seafront. The drums play late into the evening and Brazil’s iconic dessert trollies serve up their brigadeiro specialty (like large truffles surrounded by hardened chocolate flakes).

This is the part of the trip where we encountered by far the most internationals. It is cater-made for sightseers, so do expect to see plenty of lobster-like sunburnt gringo faces among the crowds.

Depressingly, our trip of a lifetime seemed to end too soon. And all we had as consolation were the samba sounds and bossa nova rhythms of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches in Rio de Janeiro!

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